Santa Fe Trail (1940)

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Released 1-Jun-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Audio
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1940
Running Time 109:28
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Michael Curtiz

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Errol Flynn
Ronald Reagan
Olivia De Havilland
Raymond Massey
Alan Hale
Case C-Button-Version 2-Opaque
RPI $19.95 Music Max Steiner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, infrequent
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Santa Fe Trail is a misleading title for this movie. Very little of the action takes place on the Santa Fe Trail, and it leaves the trail behind some way into the movie.

    This movie is a piece of propaganda, and has had some interesting comments made about it since its making - there's even some interesting comments about it on IMDB. Bear in mind that this film was made in 1940, during a military altercation (you may have heard of it) called World War II, but before the U.S.A. had joined the war. The movie is set in 1854, before the U.S. Civil War, but concerns itself with matters leading up to that war. It presents the heavy-handed moral that soldiers (and others) should be loyal to the government of the day. It paints rabble-rousers (in the film they are Abolitionists, but one can guess who they were standing in for...) as evil creatures, and the enemy of all right-thinking folks. There's some heavy sermonising on both sides.

    The propaganda aspects are a little less offensive than usual, perhaps because the topic is not a current one. This film depicts some famous names among the graduating class of 1854 at West Point - Jeb Stuart (Errol Flynn) and George Custer (Ronald Reagan) are the two central characters, but several of the other names they list are real names from history (Pickett, for example). I don't know how authentic this depiction is - if it is authentic, it seems extraordinary that all these men graduated from West Point in the same class. The Abolitionist terrorists (as they are depicted) are lead by John Brown (Raymond Massey - he does a marvellous line in crazy eyes and obsessed looks). I hadn't realised that the song John Brown's Body referred to a real man (the song is quoted in the score). American history is not one of my strong points, but even I have heard reference to the Battle of Harper's Ferry.

    It is quite strange to be watching a film that sides so strongly with the pro-slave side, and even stranger to see Errol Flynn arguing that people should "let the South resolve this by themselves" in a somewhat English accent, despite the fact that he's playing a Virginian.

    It's also interesting to see Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan playing rivals for the hand of Olivia de Havilland, whose character goes by the unusual name of Kit Carson Holliday. She gets to translate the words of a Native American fortune teller who predicts that the bunch of West Point graduates will all become famous, but will also be bitter enemies. Given that this group includes names famous on both sides of the U.S. Civil War, that is easy to understand.

    This film is more interesting as a historical oddity than as entertainment. If the moralising were less heavy-handed, this movie would be more entertaining.

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Transfer Quality


    This film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and as you would expect it is not 16x9 enhanced. The film was originally in the Academy ratio of 1.37:1, so this is very close.

    This image varies from soft to extremely soft. There's very little shadow detail. There's little or no low-level noise, but that's about the only artefact we don't get.

    Colour? None, as this is a black and white movie. There aren't many shades of grey either: dark shades tend to fall off into black quite rapidly, and light shades are mostly white. True whites are frequently over-blown, being over-hot and blooming. In some scenes the blacks are true black, in others they are grey.

    There are no lack of film artefacts either, as spots and flecks abound. A few larger examples include a line across the frame at 7:29, a rash of burns across the frame at 26:29, a large white splotch at 52:00, and a fair size white blob at 74:20. Then we have frequent telecine wobble, starting with the opening credits but cropping up often throughout. There's flickering of light levels, which are possibly source material related.

    There's no aliasing or moiré (the picture is too soft to show it). There's no posterisation, or other MPEG artefacts although the film artefacts make up for these.

    There are no subtitles.

    The disc is single sided (ugly picture label included), single layer. There is therefore no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The soundtrack is provided in one language - English. It is a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, claimed as stereo on the cover, but it sounds totally mono. It has a limited frequency response, and fairly low fidelity, with mild distortion, some wow, and some crackles (I didn't notice any hiss, though).

    The dialogue is mostly clear. There are no obvious audio sync issues.

    The score from Max Steiner is brash and noisy - it isn't helped by the lack of fidelity.

    There is no surround or subwoofer support on this soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are absolutely no extras.


    The menu is static, with music - offering just Movie and Scenes as options.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of this a Region 0 disc, with Dolby Digital 1.0 sound. It sounds as though it is in similar state. The Region 4 version is cheaper at least.


    A historical curiosity on a poor quality DVD.

    The video quality is dreadful.

    The audio quality is poor.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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